The Richmond Times-Dispatch, a key paper in the Virginia state capital, has long supported the death penalty. But their recent editorial takes the position that capital punishment “achieves no legitimate goals that cannot be achieved by a life sentence with no possibility of parole.” The paper equates the death penalty with the state “playing God.” The full text of the editorial follows:

Del. Frank Hargrove, one of the General Assembly’s Don Quixotes, hopes the umpteenth time will be the charm. He wants to end executions in Virginia, which stands second only to Texas in its zest for capital punishment.

Although there is some slight evidence that capital punishment might deter crime, its overall effect on crime trends is vanishingly small — and it achieves no legitimate goals that cannot be achieved by a life sentence with no possibility of parole. (Spare us the nonsense about how execution protects fellow inmates and guards from psychopaths. A place like the supermax Pelican Bay prison is the place for them.)

Many arguments against capital punishment are flawed, but that does not make a case for execution. The only affirmative case that can be made on behalf of killing someone instead of locking him away forever is the sentiment that certain heinous fiends deserve to die. Indeed they do; indeed, they deserve much worse than that, and their death is certainly no great loss to the world. But the judicial system does not exist to mete out divine retribution.

Those who believe in limited government also should believe government ought to limit itself to protecting the public — and ought to refrain from playing God. We long have supported capital punishment. Yet Hargrove sets a challenging example. To put a new spin on an old conservative trope: If it is not necessary to execute, then is it necessary not to execute? The question is growing tougher.
(Editorial, “Death Be Not?,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 22, 2008). See Editorials and New Voices.